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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: The N.F.L. and Dementia

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The N.F.L. and Dementia

Most fans know that football is hard on players' bodies. This is a reason that careers are short and salaries are high. The danger of the sport is part of the supply function of players. Alan Schwarz reports on a raging debate about a new health threat in a New York Times article, "N.F.L. Study Finds Link to Dementia."

A study commissioned by the National Football League reports that Alzheimer’s disease or similar memory-related diseases appear to have been diagnosed in the league’s former players vastly more often than in the national population — including a rate of 19 times the normal rate for men ages 30 through 49.

The N.F.L. has long denied the existence of reliable data about cognitive decline among its players. These numbers would become the league’s first public affirmation of any connection, though the league pointed to limitations of this study.

The findings could ring loud at the youth and college levels, which often take cues from the N.F.L. on safety policies and whose players emulate the pros. Hundreds of on-field concussions are sustained at every level each week, with many going undiagnosed and untreated.

A detailed summary of the N.F.L. study, which was conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, was distributed to league officials this month.

The study has not been peer-reviewed, but the findings fall into step with several recent independent studies regarding N.F.L. players and the effects of their occupational head injuries.

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  1. I have read other studies that say that NFL linemen who play for eight or more years are very likely not to see their 60th birthday. But football is rough, and the players know this when they sign their multi-million dollar contracts.

  2. catherine hall1/10/09 1:48 PM

    Football is a rough sport and most of the professionals have been playing since they were kids and know the risks of the sport. Alzheimer’s disease is only one of the effects they have to face from playing football. The best thing they can do is train and build up their strength so they don't tear or pull muscles.

  3. Trent Stiles1/10/09 5:59 PM

    Football is one of the most dangerous sports i might have to say. even with football pads you can still get hurt. Proven fact on average of an NFL linemen's carrer, they go through 4-6 knee surgeries their whole carrier. I dont know whats worse Alzeimers or having to deal with bad knee's when they are in their 50's or 60's.

  4. I have to say, football is an extremely dangerous sport considering i have had 2 knee surgeries from it which is very common for a football player. But an NFL player on average goes through around 4 to 7 knees surgeries throughout their career. But hey who wouldnt sacrifice their body to make millions of dollars?!

  5. Football is a very rough sport. If you want to be a great player, you have to be physical and sacrifice your body. All NFL players are really physical players, and put their bodies and minds through a great amount of stress. Even though they might have the best equipment on the market today, that doesn't mean anything because these players play with great intensity and kill each other on the field. Like for example, the great Earl Cambell was a legend on the field, and now he can barley get up and talk. It's just part of the game, and all NFL players will have some sort of problem in there 50s or 60s. Player know this, but still sign their multi million dollar contracts. Like Cory Becker said, who wouldnt want to sacrifice their body for millions of dollars and fame!

  6. Jake Dieterich3/10/09 12:52 PM

    Risk for reward. This is usually always a repercautions with dealing with a high paying career. The saleries are high for NFL football players, because of the danger they put their bodies in. They know the risks, but love the sport. Although it can be physically harmful, they put in the work day in and day out to become the best. Injuries are going to occur with this certain occupation (even if they aren't serious injuries) and your body will pay for them when it becomes aged. Each team in the NFL has the top of the line safety equipment, but that does not mean you are invulnerable to injury. As stated, there are head injuries every week on all levels of playing fields. It should be a given that alzheimer's and many other mental diseases are risks of playing this sport. Its a gamble, but if you were blessed enough to play in the NFL, wouldn't you?

  7. Evelyn Steffek4/10/09 5:28 PM

    To all you macho-guys who recently commented. Sure, you can get millions of dollars signing a contract, live in luxury and have it all. Of course I know it takes lots of hard work and conditioning for these guys. But its easy for you to SAY you would go through all that when you get older. Would you actually stand by your decision when your going through it? You have to remember, by the time you are 50 or 60 years old you will probaly have children and possibly even grandchildren. Do you honestly think replacing their memmory with a couple million will do you good? By that time you won't care for much anything else but your family. I believe its much better to live a long full life (and be able to remember it), than using it all up in few decades or so. Finally I'd have to say that I wish more people knew about the strong risks for Altzeimers when playing football. Maybe someone could revise some rules, or invent a better kind of helmet. Something to help the players.

  8. Zach Dickerson4/10/09 7:53 PM

    You don't see many old football players making any public appearances these days, because most of them have either a physical or mental handicap. Unknowingly that is the price many football player pay due to not knowing the facts.

  9. When you're young and you sign up to play football you know the risks you're taking. NFL football players aren't that dumb, they know that the hits they take will effect them later in life. I think the NFL should take more steps to prevent head injuries though. They've already started to make steps by adding a 15 yard personal foul penalty for helmet to helmet hits. Helmet companies are going to be the main people held responsible though, the safer the helmets are than the safer the head will be..

  10. laci lynn said...
    NFL players do know what they are getting into... they are getting into the money! They sacrifice their bodies and minds, who wouldnt? They all think it wont happen to them until dementia and injury knock on their door.

  11. I don't think this should be a big issue. Football players at all levels know what they are getting into when they decide to play. As far as NFL players, I'm sure they think about consequences in the long run, but as humans we think of what we can get out of things now. I do believe the NFL should look more into safety precautions for their players.

  12. Bryce Conner5/10/09 10:38 PM

    Even though the studies have showed that the chances of being diagnosed with dementia are five times greater in NFL players than for the avg citizen, the rewards of the sport can be far more rewarding. Most contracts signed for big players offer enough money to promise economic stability for life. Its up to the players to take the risk. As long as people will pay millions to watch others play sports, than the problem of people choosing millions rather than choosing what is healthy for them in the end, will always exist.

  13. Tyler Fadal8/11/09 8:55 PM

    Football is a very dangerous, and risky sport. With that being said, all of the players in the NFL know what they are getting themselves into. They understand the consequences, both good and bad. I believe that everyone has the right to choose what they do for a living, so if they want to play in the NFL they have every right. Although the opportunity cost of playing in the NFL has pros and cons, you run the same amount of risk if not more everytime you drive a vehicle. There are consequences for everything we do, and it is up to each individual to determine whether the opportunity cost is what they are willing accept.

  14. All of the players that are out there playing football know that every play there is a risk of them getting hurt and their career might end all of the players also know that it is fun to be out the play the sport of football the saying is " No Risk No Reward" the risk is getting hurt from a shoulder stinger to a severe concousion, and the reward is getting recognized by the ncaa or the nfl and going onto the next level to play football I think that if the player gets hurt it is only their fault knowing that there was a chance of that happening. (Adam)

  15. Playing football is a risk but so is playing every other sport. The football players know what they are signing up for. Most are responding to an inncentive though, which is the money knowing all to well what the risk are.

    Kaydi Perry

  16. Diane Dunn19/9/10 8:12 PM

    Even though the sport of football is dangerous there is an abundance of boys and men willing to take the risk and play football (supply), and even more people are watching football games at every level (demand). The demand for professional players is dictated by the amount of money we are willing to pay for tickets, team shirts, etc. The players are enticed by the fame and the money, which are very strong incentives. Anyone deciding to play football at any level should seriously weight the benefits against the drawbacks.

  17. Christa Lilley12/2/11 8:09 PM

    From the beginning all football players know what they are getting in too. At any point while they are practicing or playing their career can be ended. Some players are lucky to have longer football careers than others but they are still at risk from getting one of these diseases because of the many injuries they get. There is a large amount of men still out there that know about the risks of football but still want to play the game. Football will always be a popular sport to play and to watch and the players will look past these possible effects to do what they love to do.